Is Obama Sending Mixed Message on Public Option?

The answer is yes. Just a day after his Health and Human Services Secretary says the administration can live without a public option, other aides now say he hasn’t given up on it. And what exactly is involved with the health insurance co-ops that would take the public option’s place? Nobody seems to know.

All this is why, in a previous blog post, I argued that President Obama needed to start the health care reform debate with single payer, universal care.


Those who oppose him couldn’t care less about the public option, co-ops, or anything else he comes up with. Their end game is, simply, nothing, no change at all. That’s why they spent so much time and energy packing town hall meetings with loudmouthed screamers, some of whom still can’t fathom the fact that Barack Obama is President of the United States.

Now, progressives are crying foul, saying Obama is abandoning real reform in favor of a watered down alternative. It is, as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert accurately describes it, “like sending a peewee footballers against the Super Bowl champs” when it comes to co-ops vs. big insurance. So the question must be asked, why? Why is the administration making so many concessions?

Do they not see that for some of those who oppose healthcare reform, Obama himself is the issue? Maybe the president is having trouble digesting the ugliness that came out of so many of those town halls. But he doesn’t seem to understand that nothing will mollify that small segment of the American public. Nothing, that is, short of his resignation.

You can say it’s racial, you can say it’s generational, whatever. There is a loud minority in America who see “their country” slipping away from them. They see Barack Obama and his agenda as the cause of that slippage, and they don’t like it one bit. Ditching the public option gives emboldens them like nothing else could. It tells them, “we’re winning”.

Worse yet, big business is winning. They’re the ones bankrolling the politicians and in some cases the groups that are  loudest in opposing reform. They’re the ones whose bottom lines will get fatter if costs aren’t controlled. And they’ll have a giant new pool of clients if everyone’s required to purchase insurance.

And what does the public get? Not a whole lot.

I for one understand politics well enough to know you don’t always get what you want, that compromise is part of the game, a necessary one if you talk to those who play it.

But at what price? You tell me.


Will the Bronx Hear Obama’s Message?

President Obama always makes a big splash when he comes to New York City.

Thursday was no exception. He spoke at the NAACP’s annual convention, and brought the audience to its feet more than once. It was his most direct speech on issues of race since the campaign, and contained more than one reference to the need for black people to take individual responsibility for bettering our condition.

I spent part of Thursday in a part of New York City that’s not too far from the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan where the president spoke. Not too far, at least, as the crow flies.

In some ways, the  West Bronx is a world away from Midtown. Walk its streets and you experience hope and despair simultaneously. There’s the hopeful hum of road repair and new construction. Unlike “back in the day”, a good number of wearing the hard hats are people of color.

You look in wonder at a vest pocket community garden on Morris Ave. just below 181st St.

You hear the laughter of young children at a playground up the block. A couple of blocks away, the rumble of the elevated subway provides a tympani roll every five minutes or so. Whether walking or driving through the Bronx, you realize this place has a rhythm all its own. The smells of restaurant food from the English and Spanish speaking Caribbean come together to remind you it’s almost lunchtime.

Yes, warts and all, the Bronx is a beautiful place to me. Yet I know better than to try to romanticize it. As President Obama told the NAACP, much still needs to be done. On that note, a thought came to me as I digested the speech and my trip to the Bronx at the same time. While it’s fine for the president to talk about individual and family responsibility, what about the responsibility of politicians to better the conditions of poor, working people in places like the West Bronx?

Recent local developments could lead one to conclude some politicians are acting as irresponsibly as fathers who make babies and then abandon them. They build fiefdoms through providing needed services like health care, then pay themselves princely salaries in addition to what  they make as lawmakers. The recent gridlock in the New York State Senate, the inability of California lawmakers to work out a budget agreement, and other examples around the country seem to say the need for responsibility doesn’t stop at the doorstep of black America.

Maybe one day soon, President Obama will get to walk the streets of the Bronx?

He certainly walked the streets of Chicago as a community organizer, so he knows the pain of poverty and dashed expectations first hand. That’s why his message resonates with many in the black community. He needs to deliver that same message to greedy, avaricious politicians, even if they’re members of his political party.

You think it would make a difference?